Should we be surprised that the Department of Justice sees no problem with misleading a member of the United States Senate? On September 19 and October 16, I wrote about the plans to criminally target Republican activists and candidates engaged in perfectly legal activity that the partisan career lawyers in the Civil Rights Division did not like. Apparently, Senator Lindsey Graham sent an inquiry to the Justice Department asking about the September 19 posting. In a response dated October 22, Keith Nelson, principal deputy assistant attorney general of the Office of Legislative Affairs, denied that any such activity was going on and claimed that “the Department does not persecute individuals for legal political activities.” Really?
In the September 19 posting I pointed out that sources who attended an election training session this summer at Justice specifically were told that the Criminal Section of the Civil Rights Division intended to prosecute anyone it considered to be engaging in voter “intimidation” or “oppression.” I have seen the materials from the conference that substantiate that claim. One of the deputy chiefs, Mark Blumberg, told some attendees that anyone sending a mailer to voters telling them that you must be a citizen to vote was engaging in voter suppression and should be hauled before a grand jury. Mr. Nelson denies that occurred, stating that “the anonymous blog inaccurately describes the content of the presentations and comments” made at the training session. However, Mr. Nelson did not attend the training session and my sources did — and the Civil Rights Division did precisely what I predicted in my September 19 column.
On October 1, three weeks before Nelson’s letter, lawyers from the Criminal Section of the Civil Rights Division indicted former congressional candidate Tan Nguyen for making “misleading statements to investigators” over a letter sent to Latino voters informing them that only U.S. citizens are allowed to vote. Nguyen was engaging in “legal political activities” and the letter is literally correct — both federal and state law require a voter to be a citizen to vote in federal and state elections. Yet Nguyen was indicted for his responses to FBI agents made during the investigation into the mailer. Mr. Nelson does not explain in his letter why the FBI and the Justice Department were investigating a candidate in the first place for perfectly legal behavior protected by the First Amendment. In fact, Mr. Nelson does not mention the indictment at all — I guess the indictment is a little too inconvenient for the phony claims made in his letter. The indictment itself proves the assertions made in my earlier postings.
Senator Graham also requested the Justice Department protect poll watchers and election monitors from intimidation and abuse as they serve their function inside the polls. In his response, Mr. Nelson agreed that “intimidation of poll watchers is a serious matter” and that the Justice Department “is committed to reviewing any complaints concerning intimidation of poll watchers.” If that is really the truth, then why is the Department not prosecuting the Black Panthers with night sticks — one of whom was a certified Obama poll watcher! — who engaged in obvious and clear-cut threats and intimidation at a polling place in Philadelphia on Election Day? They were even filmed by Fox News. Maybe the Department is looking into this, but if so, it has not been reported publicly and a very public prosecution is needed to deter this kind of notorious behavior.
Unfortunately, I am afraid that the Obama campaign’s pre-election attempts to generate criminal prosecutions of its political opponents by the Justice Department, which have been reported in numerous news sources, is a foretaste of what is to come. With Obama in control of the Department after January 20, we can all expect more outrageous prosecutions like the Nguyen indictment. Good business for criminal defense lawyers but bad precedent for the well-being of our democracy and the preservation of our political rights.